Jewish Voters and Left-Wing Parties
By: Mark Milke
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Only the most blindly partisan, or those still living off past political arguments, could ignore the trend that in the West it is now conservative parties that are more sympathetic to Israel (and as has been obvious for some time - the freedoms that Israel represents) than those that swing to the left. In fact, scan political parties in at least three western countries, the U.S., Canada, and Britain, and the trend is much the same, both in a more robust defense of Israel and the promotion of western liberties.
From Canada, the chief foreign affairs spokesman for the far-left New Democratic Party (think of a party run by Al Sharpton and Michael Moore) traipsed out to Ramallah last year to try to show “solidarity” with Yasser Arafat who was then trapped in his compound by the Israeli army. Sensibly, the Israelis refused to allow the Canadian Member of Parliament (himself a sort of foreign policy dilettante a la Jesse Jackson) to get into the compound. Meanwhile, the centre-left Liberal party, which incidentally has also governed Canada for the last decade, only banned both the military and “social” wings of Hezbollah last December, after arguing for years that its social wing was a legitimate charity.
In Britain last Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw strangely compared Israel to Iraq. When asked if it had been unfair of Britain to quickly enforce UN resolutions against Iraq but not mid-1970s ones against Israel (passed when the U.N. was even more so the property of crackpot tyrannies than it is now), Straw replied that yes, there was a double standard and that “we’ll deal with it,” whatever that meant. It is not the first time that even the conservative wing of the Labour party, represented by Blair and Straw, has sent weak signals of support to Israel. The British government also turned down Israel’s attempt to purchase military supplies from the U.K., including ejector seats for its ageing Phantom aircraft.
In the U.S., Democrats are seen as more friendly to the Jewish state, but as William Safire noted in his much-discussed New York Times column last month, this perception is less deserved as of late. His best example was perhaps his note about Bill Clinton’s comment that there “cannot be a cease-fire without a withdrawal,” in essence the Palestinian position.
None of these examples will come as a particular shock to close political observers, but the results of the same may come as a sudden surprise to those parties who assume the underlying political “tectonic plates” are largely immoveable, i.e., the very parties in the West that have taken the Jewish vote for granted, especially Democrats .
The usual response to this is that Jewish voters are generally far more liberal than most voters and that pundits have predicted a strategic realignment among Jewish voters for the last three decades. Milton Himmelfarb once joked that “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” At first glance, this is true, and in fact more so even recently. If one wants to look at the raw data as it concerns the trend in the U.S. presidential elections over the past three decades, an increasingly larger share of the Jewish vote has indeed gone to Democratic candidates. The high water mark for Republicans over the last three decades was in 1980, when about 40 percent of Jewish votes went to Ronald Reagan. While George H. Bush garnered a respectable share in 1988 at just over 30 percent, his Jewish vote collapsed four years later when almost nine out of ten Jewish voters cast their ballot for Bill Clinton.
But observers might want to keep that 40 percent figure for Reagan in 1980 in mind; after all, that was a year in which security issues loomed large; Jimmy Carter had just finished his four-year apprenticeship in foreign policy and the result was Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the Soviets in Afghanistan, and of course, American diplomats held hostage by Islamic fanatics in the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Fast forward 20 years and the Democratic record on foreign policy and security by November 2000 was not so starkly awful -- at the time. But with hindsight, all the slick sweet talking from another southern governor did little to prevent Israeli-Palestinian peace hopes from collapsing onto the funeral pyre of Islamic terrorism. Soft critics may attribute less of that failure to Clinton and more of it to Yasser Arafat; less forgiving observers might well argue it was inevitable given the nature of the man Bill Clinton spent so much time courting.
Regardless, given that implosion and the retrospective vacation from history that the Clinton administration took in the 1990s, the look-back view of the Clinton years may create a millstone around Democrat necks similar to the one that existed in more obvious ways in 1980. That milieu may well stick to Democrats in unquantifiable but numerically significant ways next year, and among some Jewish voters in swing states.
After all, consider these contrasting images. Under Bill Clinton, there was the ridiculous 1997 scene of Madeleine Albright running out in her high heels after Yasser Arafat to attempt to try and get him back into the Paris peace talks after he walked out. Compare that silliness with Bush’s refusal to shake Arafat’s hand or even acknowledge the terrorists’ existence at the United Nations when both men were present at the same event in 2001.
As well, imagine a Republican campaign in 2004 where Rudolph Giuliani and George Bush appear at a few key events together, say, in the swing state Florida where the Jewish vote is electorally significant. It is not only post-9-11 Giuliani who is the electoral asset, but the pre-9/11 Giuliani who had New York City cops eject Arafat from the Lincoln Centre in 1995. Giuliani’s reasoning and backbone then -- that terrorists, even ones that are guest of the United Nations, don’t get to sit in the same theatre as he is present in -- was prescient and justified in 1995 but even more so with hindsight.
Liberal and left-wing parties in western countries have long taken Jewish voters for granted; while there were some understandable historical reasons for that, those reasons are steadily being eclipsed by parties on the right that prefer to actually defend liberal democratic countries such as Israel instead of merely staging photo-ops on the White House lawn with terrorists. In terms of the U.S. in specific, a significant chunk of Jewish voters once voted for a Republican candidate whose trump card was security; it will be fascinating to see if history replays itself 24 years later.
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